Coun. Colin Plant publicly tempered expectations about amalgamation during Monday’s council meeting.
Speaking before council ratified a recommendation asking the provincial government to establish a citizens’ assembly on amalgamation, Plant cautioned the public against reading too much into this decision.
“I think people in the audience may think that means Saanich residents are ready to do it [amalgamation], and that this council is endorsing it,” said Plant. “I think what we are endorsing…is having this process take place. I don’t think Saanich is particularly in a place where all we are waiting for is for our citizens to discover this. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a very difficult conversation that occurs.”
Council, he said, made a “very bold decision” in asking the provincial government for a citizens’ assembly on amalgamation. The recommendation first appeared in the final report of the governance review citizens advisory committee (GRCAC), and council’s committee-of-the-whole agreed with it following a public review in December 2017.
A citizens’ assembly is a deliberative forum, which the provincial government defines as an “independent assembly of randomly selected individuals with a mandate to examine an issue over an extended period of time and make a recommendation to the Legislative Assembly.”
Such a forum recommended in May 2017 the amalgamation of North Cowichan and Duncan, set to be decided later this year. Against this backdrop, council’s decision could appear as a precursor to amalgamation.
“But I want to temper the notion that this council is saying tonight, ‘we are ready for amalgamation,’ and all we are waiting for is for the province to fund it and the City of Victoria to sit down with us,” said Plant.
“Because that is not where we are at. Where we are at is establishing a citizens’ forum and for them to have the very difficult discussion about blending two municipalities or more… although I think it would be very difficult beyond us and Victoria.”
Plant’s comments also point to the issues that would be on the high list of any agenda discussing amalgamation. As Plant identified them, these “very serious concerns” include the protection of assets and potential financial abilities.
“I’m not afraid of having the conversation [about amalgamation],” he said. “But I just don’t want to people to assume that we are amalgamating, as soon as this citizens’ assembly gets together.”
Shellie Gudgeon, president of Amalgamation Yes, agreed with Plant’s comments.
“I applaud Colin for setting the record straight on this,” she said. What is needed first and foremost at this stage is data, she said.
“We are delighted that Saanich is taking a lead on pursuing this direction,” she said. “This needs to be addressed. We can and must do better about how we govern ourselves. In order to do, we need information. We need a public process to educate ourselves.”
Council Monday also ratified a recommendation to launch talks about a regional police force.